The Secret Ingredient You Need For Perfect Apple Cider Donuts

If fall flavors were characters in a classic teen movie, pumpkin spice would be the quote-unquote popular kid. Attractive and likeable, it tends to monopolize lots of positive attention, sometimes eclipsing its peers in the process. As the story unfolds, however, one or more of those peers will find themselves rising to prominence, thanks to their own unique charms. In our fall flavors version of this classic coming-of-age trope, the part of this underdog would inevitably be played by the humble, homespun apple cider donut.  

Traditionally, apple cider donuts were the creative product of cider makers who used freshly pressed juice to add an apple-scented tang to homemade fried dough. As New Hampshire Magazine explains, cider's acidity both tenderizes the dough and adds a distinct freshness to the finished product.

First introduced to the mass market in 1951, per Smithsonian Magazine, the apple cider donut has been around considerably longer than Starbucks' pumpkin spice latte, which was created in 2003. Its fall flavor domination may be attributable to having a massive corporate sponsor in Starbucks, not to mention this scientific reason that people love pumpkin spice. However, the PSL would be wise to keep an eye on the competition because according to Food52, the apple cider donut is gaining on it in popularity. Moreover, we've discovered a way to use French pastry principles to take the cider-house perennial to next-level perfection.

Brown butter adds depth of flavor

Brown butter can sound intimidating, and that may be because it is closely associated with French cuisine, per Science of Cooking. "Beurre noisette," as it's known in French is so named because using heat to brown butter adds a nutty dimension to butter's essential flavor profile, one which some may recognize as reminiscent of toasted hazelnut. A fundamental in French pastry-making, its subtle Maillard-affected caramel flavor, is, arguably, what distinguishes American apple pie from the French apple tart, also known as tarte tatin. And if browned butter is capable of elevating the down-home goodness of apple pie, imagine what it can do for apple cider donuts.

You don't have to imagine, however, because making brown butter takes mere minutes and is surprisingly forgiving. To wit, just toss unsalted butter pats into a saucepan, and heat on high, agitating frequently until brown flecks appear. Said flecks consist of milk protein, which browns at just 285 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas butterfat has a higher smoke point. As soon as you see those flecks, you'll want to remove the heat source. Et voila, your butter is nutty and toasty and ready to use. 

Our recipe for apple cider doughnuts is easily modified using brown butter for a nuttier, richer flavor. However, whenever you're substituting brown butter for regular, your best results may be achieved when you brown only half of what the recipe calls for, per King Arthur Baking